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Will Massachusetts bring back the death penalty?

A bill to reinstate the death penalty is being considered by the Legislature, but only about a third of state residents support capital punishment. 

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    This November 2005, file photo, shows the death chamber at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Ohio. With two dozen scheduled executions in limbo, Ohio officials sent a forceful letter to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday, Oct. 9, 2015, asserting the state believes it can obtain a lethal injection drug from overseas without violating any laws. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato, File)
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Does history repeat itself? In Massachusetts it might.

Thanks to the state's liberal politics and large proportion of Catholics, the Bay State has long held a distaste for the death penalty, holding its most recent execution in 1947. But now the state legislature is weighing a bill to reinstate capital punishment, according to The Associated Press.

In 1975, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court curtailed capital punishment, prompting a push for an amendment to the state's constitution that would have restored it. Voters approved this in 1982, and  the governor signed a law reinstating the death penalty for certain cases, according to Channel 5 WCVB. But two years later, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court determined that law to be unconstitutional, in effect banning capital punishment.

In 1997, the House was one vote shy of restoring capital punishment after the killing of a 10-year-old boy in Cambridge.

Since then, support for the death penalty among legislators and the public has receded.

This year, a Gallup poll showed 60 percent of Americans find the death penalty morally acceptable. That’s only a three percent drop since 2001.

But according to the Boston Globe, about a third of Massachusetts citizens support the death penalty, yet less than a fifth supported the death penalty for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was convicted for his involvement in the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings and subsequently sentenced to death. Even the family of Martin Richard, a boy who died in the blasts, didn’t want the death penalty because they feared it would result in an endless appeals process.

As the Christian Science Monitor’s Jessica Mendoza reported this summer, Nebraska passed a law repealing the death penalty, which was later challenged by an advocacy group that said it collected enough signatures to suspend the repeal and send the issue back to voters for the 2016 election.

In recent years, the drugs used in lethal injections have been in short supply, and some critics claim lethal injection is cruel and unusual punishment after seemingly botched executions. As CNN reported last month, when prison officials administered a lethal injection to an inmate, his execution became on of the longest in US history while “he moaned and writhed on the gurney for 43 minutes before dying of a heart attack.”

In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the use of a drug some blame for the apparently botched executions, midazolam, was constitutional.  

This report contains material from The Associated Press.  

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